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I made it to the end of the road and then stopped, unsure what to do with myself. I’d been vaguely planning to find a hotel and stay in London until after the wedding, but now that I’d seen the Potters I wasn’t sure that was such a good idea. It had been stupid of me to come back. I should have realised how difficult it would be.

There was a bus stop at the corner of the street and I sat down on the narrow plastic bench. It was sloped and uncomfortable but I pressed myself up against the glass shelter and crossed my arms tightly around myself.

The pavement glittered with puddles that darkened my boots. It must have rained earlier in the day. I kicked the water and regretted it when it seeped through the suede of my shoes and made my toes damp.

Splashing footsteps came towards me and I closed my eyes. Unless it was Ollie, I didn’t want to talk to anyone.

“Cassie?”

Albus’s voice. I sighed and opened my eyes.

He stood on the other side of the glass, watching me. His hair was tousled and he looked tired. The easy smiles I’d seen from him inside had faded.

“Go away,” I snapped.

He rolled his eyes and stepped around the glass and into the shelter, perching on the red plastic beside me.

“Get up, Cassie.”

“No.”

“You’re going to get up and come back with me,” he told me, his voice slow and patient, like he was talking to a young child.

I snorted. “Why would I do that?”

“For Liv,” he said.

I scowled at him and crossed my arms more tightly.

“Come on. I sent the others home. You can come in.”

“You don’t want me in your house,” I mumbled.

“No. I really don’t. You actually might be the person I least want to enter my house ever.”

I gaped at him. “Did you just...say something mean?”

He gave me a bemused look and shrugged.

“I am capable of occasional meanness. When necessary.”

“You amaze me,” I said, nudging him with my shoulder.

He chuckled and then yawned.

“I’m the person you least want in your house? Out of everyone in the world?”

Albus shrugged. “I reckon so. You’re in the top three, at least.”

I wrinkled my nose, considering this. It hurt a little bit.

“I never thought I’d hear Albus Potter, sunshine king, saying something so mean,” I said, forcing a laugh.

“I do feel a little bit guilty about it.”

“Thanks. That makes me feel better.”

“Good.”

We sat in comfortable silence for a few moments. The rain had started again and was pattering against the shelter above us. I unclenched my arms and held one hand out to catch the drops. I’d sort of missed the English weather.

“So why do you want me to come with you? If I’m the person you least want in your house,” I said, breaking the silence.

“Liv,” Albus said simply.

“Right.” I crossed my arms again.

“You’re not a nice person, Cassie,” he said.

“I know.”

“You’re really not. When I met Liv she was a wreck because of you. She was having the most terrible time and she needed people she loved to support her. And, for whatever reason, she wanted you to be one of those people. And you left her.”

“I know,” I whispered.

“And then you came back and I thought you were going to be able to fix it. I wanted you to be able to fix it. And the way my brother used to look at you made it all seem worth it.”

I winced. I should have known he’d mention James.

“Jesus, Cassie. I forget how bad it was until I properly think about it.”

“I…” My voice trailed away. “I didn’t…”

“You didn’t know it would destroy everybody if you walked out on my brother and your daughter and didn’t tell anyone where you were going?”

“I didn’t know how to stay,” I confessed.

“I don’t really care what your reasons were,” he said. “I seriously doubt they even begin to justify what you did. But that’s not the point right now.”

“What is the point?”

He stood up and stepped in front of me, looking at me with a serious gaze.

“The point is that you hurt them. Liv and James are my absolute favourite people. I love them so so much. And your pathological need to run away from the people who care about you has hurt them. You hurt them.”

He rubbed his eyes. He looked stressed and tired and I felt sort of guilty for causing it. It was his birthday and he was standing outside in the rain trying to show me the things I’d done wrong.

He took a deep, slow breath. “Look, Cassie. You hurt Liv and then you hurt James and I’m not going to let you do it again. Liv wanted you to be here. You’re not running away this time. Now get up and come back with me.”

I stuck my tongue out at him but stood up anyway.

“Fine.”

“Good.”

We started walking back down the road, rain drizzling down over us. I kept putting one foot in front of the other, walking in tiny pigeon steps and focussing on the straight line my toes made when the met my heels so that I didn’t need to think too much about where I was.

“You told me off,” I said.

“I did.”

“You were very convincing.”

“Thank you.”

“You sounded like a teacher. Or a dad.”

“Sure.”

“And you’re wearing slippers outside. You’re such a dad,” I laughed.

A fleeting, pained expression passed over his face. But a moment later it had gone and he was smiling again.

“Just wait until you see my dancing next week. Then you won’t call me dad.”

“We’ll see.”

I smiled at him. He smiled back. And then I followed him back into the house.

Al led me back through the kitchen and over to a sofa next to the window. Ollie was sat at the edge of the sofa. She sat up very straight and kept tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

“I didn’t think you’d come back,” she said shakily.

“Your fiance is very persuasive.”

I sat down at the other end of the sofa, leaving the space next to her free for Albus. I didn’t feel like I could sit too close to her.

Albus mumbled something about making tea and left us, heading back into the kitchen area.

“So…” I chewed on my lip, waiting for Ollie to start the conversation properly.

Ollie didn’t say anything. Her eyes kept flickering over to Albus, who was leaning against the kitchen counter and waiting for the kettle to boil. He was far away enough to give us space but still very much in the room. I watched him smile at Ollie and saw how she visibly relaxed when she met his gaze.

“I didn’t really expect you to come,” she admitted.

I frowned. “I didn’t really expect to come either.”

“But you did.”

“Yeah.”

“Because of James, right?” She was still watching Albus, not looking at me.

“What?”

“You weren’t going to come,” she said. “And then James had his accident and you came back.”

I bit a hangnail away from my little finger and then chewed on the nail itself while I contemplated my answer.

“I’m not angry, Cass. I’m just trying to understand you. I hate not being able to understand you.”

“I’m here for you,” I told her. “You’re right. I came back because I heard about James’s accident. It made me feel like I couldn’t keep ignoring my life here. But I want to be here for you.”

“Right.”

“I mean it. You’re getting married. That’s huge. I want to be there with you.”

Ollie’s eyes were shiny and she brushed them with her fingers, wiping the tears on her jumper. But then she gave me a tired sort of smile and shrugged.

Albus carried a tray over to us and passed each of us a cup of tea. He put a plate of jaffa cakes on the cushion between the two of us and then sat down in a separate armchair, dragging it closer to Ollie so he could rest a hand on her shoulder and use his thumb to rub small circles on her forearm. She tilted her head to kiss the back of his hand.

“You’re staying for the wedding then?” He said.

“If that’s okay.”

“I’ll tell Lily to behave herself,” he smirked.

I shuddered. “I forgot about her.”

Ollie shook her head and laughed. “She’s just being protective. James is her favourite big brother.”

Albus prodded her shoulder and she turned and kissed his nose.

“If you’re sticking around…” Ollie said tentatively. “You know you’ll have to see him at some point.”

“James?”

She nodded. “He’s hiding away, but there’s no chance Ginny will let him avoid coming to the wedding. You’ll see him. Will you be okay with that?”

“Will he be okay with that?”

I bit the inside of my cheek, waiting as Ollie and Albus looked at each other, having some kind of silent conversation that I wasn’t a part of.

“I don’t know,” Albus said eventually. “What you did to him...wasn’t good. And now he’s having to cope with losing Quidditch. I’ll warn him you’re here but it might not be a very pretty reunion.”

I took a deep breath, nodding slowly. I’d expected that. I couldn’t ask James to be okay with me coming back like this.

“Will you manage being here?” Ollie asked, looking at me with careful, narrowed eyes. “You won’t run off again before the wedding?”

“Sure.”

“I mean it.” She looked stern. “If you’re going to run away then you should go now. I don’t want you to tell me you’ll be here and then leave again. I can’t...I just can’t deal with that.”

“Ollie, I’m here.”

“And you won’t run away?”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

She gave me a watery smile and then stood up. I stood as well and she pulled me into a hug that reminded me of being fifteen and being inseparable. She smelt like apple and honey and her hair tickled my cheek and I didn’t want to let go.

When she pulled away, she was smiling properly.

“That’s that sorted, then,” she said. “And if you’re here you can help me with the final preparations. Ginny’s been doing lots of it with me and Rose is my maid of honour, but I could use your eye for detail.”

“I’d love to help.”

“Fab. I’ve got my final dress fitting tomorrow. You should come with.”

She yawned and Albus stepped up behind her and let her lean back into him.

“I’m shattered,” Ollie said. “Think I need to go to bed or I’m not going to make it through the week.”

I took the hint and backed away.

“Of course. I should get going. I need to find a hotel room.”

“Don’t be silly,” Ollie said, shaking her head.

“We have a guest room,” Albus told me. “You can stay with us.”

I waited for one of them to take back the offer. I’d already spoilt Albus’s birthday. I didn’t think they could possibly want me to actually stay with him. But they were both smiling and I couldn’t detect any hesitation in Albus’s offer.

“Are you sure?” My voice wavered. I hated it.

“Come.” Ollie smiled and reached out her hand.

I took her hand and let her lead me down the corridor to a bright yellow door painted with splashing red poppies.

“Let us know if you need anything,” Albus said. “We’re just upstairs.”

I waited for them to leave before opening the door. I still felt like I was imposing, but now that they’d gone to bed I couldn’t really leave without being rude. I stepped into the room.

Like the rest of the house, the space so obviously belonged to Ollie that it filled me with warmth. The walls were striped white and pale blue until they neared the top and blurred into a cloudy sky that stretched across the ceiling. Unlike the corridor, this sky was still and unchanging. Carefully drawn birds were scattered among the clouds and a single large, flying pink elephant danced in the very center of the room. The images were childish and colourful and I couldn’t hold back my smile.

I lay down on the bed in the middle of the room and stared up at the ceiling, not bothering to get changed or turn out the lights. Ollie was so talented. I wasn’t sure I’d realised quite how impressive she was when we were still at school. Now that she’d made a career from her artwork I felt silly for not paying more attention to it when I still had the chance.

The quilt on my bed was embroidered with tiny blue and white fairies that danced and twirled across the fabric. I ran my fingers over the thread and let sleep make my body heavy.

I knew that the next week wasn’t going to be easy, but it felt good to be home.

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